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e-Learning Digest No 82 - Jun 11

Cloud created by:

Jim Ellis
13 June 2011

UK Conferences & Workshops


Private HE Provision

[The Guardian; BBC; University World News; Giles Clark; THE]

HEFCE has warned the government about the risks of promoting private suppliers of HE, advising that, “The short-term and long-term goals of private providers may not match the national interest.  Private providers may only focus on those subjects, and those kinds of students, that are most profitable.”  If suppliers’ main motivation is simply receiving student loan income, pedagogic and pastoral support may be limited, leading to poor completion rates.  Telling figures released by the House of Commons library show graduation rates among full-time students in the UK were 61% at not-for-profit institutions, but only 17% at for-profit colleges.  UCU’s Sally Hunt noted, “The government was clearly warned of the many dangers for-profits pose, particularly to our proud international reputation for excellence,” she said.  “As events in America have shown, the for-profit model is fraught with danger for students and taxpayers alike.”

Prof AC Grayling is to be Master of the New College of the Humanities, a privately-owned college which will open in Sep 2012.  Fourteen notable academics are so far involved, including biologist Richard Dawkins and historian Sir David Cannadine.  Degrees will cover five subject areas - law, economics, history, English literature and philosophy – and students will also take 3 ‘intellectual skills’ modules in science literacy, logic and critical thinking and applied ethics.  Planned fees are £18,000 but some assisted places will also be offered.  However, the initiative is causing disquiet amongst some students and academics.

The potential role of the private sector in global HE was highlighted at a forum in Canada last month, when 120 university and corporate leaders from more than 20 countries met to explore how best to expand across international borders.  Between 1997 and 2010, the number of US students enrolled in for-profit schools increased by 440%, while the overall HE system only grew by 10%, and in India, more than half of post-secondary students study at private institutions.

Investment site The Motley Fool takes a look at Pearson’s financial situation and how it stacks up against competitors such as McGraw-Hill, Apollo (BPP, University of Phoenix) and Washington Post (Kaplan).  The Times Higher takes a more specific look at how BPP is revising down its UK profit forecasts.


MMU New Online Degrees

[JE; University World News]

Manchester Metropolitan University and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants have formed a partnership to offer two new entirely online degrees.  A BA in Sustainable Performance Management launches this month, with an estimate enrolment of 300-400 per course, and an MSc in Strategic Business Management follows in Sep.  Technology, hosting and infrastructure is outsourced to Core Learning Services (CLS).  Students are assessed on their responses to a case study based report, together with a presentation they make to their tutors.  There are also formative assessments - in the form of short, multi-choice and other, more discursive questions - which are included in the e-learning content and a discussion forum.  The development timeline is interesting: CIMA contacted MMU in Aug 10, CLS were contracted in Nov 10 and the first course is launching in Jun 11.

However, not all collaborations are made in heaven, even if they involve a prestigious partner.  The Malaysian University of Science and Technology came close to insolvency earlier this year and is having to restructure and reinvent itself after collaboration with MIT turned sour.  Despite a target of some 500 students, just over 200 are currently enrolled (up from just ten students in 2007).  “MIT insisted on having control over the curriculum in Malaysia and its delivery, and it also insisted on having control over the admission of students.  There was not enough adaptation to local circumstances,” claimed one anonymous MUST staff member.


International Students

[University World News; New York Times]

International post-secondary student numbers are estimated to have risen from 2m (2001) to 3.3m (2009), with over 400,000 (13%) of these in the UK.  The Institute of International Education's Atlas Project has just published Student Mobility and the Internationalization of Higher Education: National Policies and Strategies from Six World Regions.  The report examines the current situation in 17 countries, considering both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors that cause students to study abroad.  The authors note that drivers include much more than quality and cost: “international students increasingly care about affordability, value for their money and post-education prospects”.

But why travel when you can do it online?  NYT reports on the success of the Kuala Lumpur-based Asia e-University which offers online courses and currently has around 5,000 students in the region, thanks to recent improvements in broadband infrastructure.  The university has developed its own courses but is increasingly working with international partners, such as for its joint MBA with Denmark’s International Business School of Scandinavia.  The report also describes the growth of other similar organisations in Asia and notes that China is now home to 68 online colleges.


US Publishers Criticize Federal Investment in OERs

[Wired Campus]

Here’s some transatlantic déjà vu.  Educational publishers are strongly objecting to a $2bn federal grant program that will support the development of freely available online college course materials, with comments such as: “I think it’s very dangerous for them to be in the product business,” (Pearson); “We don’t see the point in the government collecting up taxpayer money and trying to rebuild an industry from scratch,” (McGraw-Hill); and “I fear when big bucks from government is put into certain places, it actually stops pushing people to innovate,” (Blackboard).

BBC Jam, anyone?


Costs v Benefits of a (US) Degree

[Stephen Downes; Slashdot]

The Nexus Research and Policy Center (which shares the same parentage as the University of Phoenix) has published Who Wins? Who Pays? The Economic Returns and Costs of a Bachelor’s Degree.  The authors report that, “a bachelor’s degree, whether from a public, a not-for-profit, or a for-profit institution, pays a handsome net financial reward in comparison to a high school diploma”.  Their analysis suggests benefits in the range $230k to $552k (depending on the type of institution) over a lifetime for degree holders compared with those without.  However, some others in the sector have been critical of the study’s underlying assumptions and generalizations.

In a similar vein, Pew Internet has released Is College Worth It? – an amalgamation of two recent US surveys of the general public and college presidents.  94% of adults with children said they expect them to attend college and 53% were saving to pay for it, but 57% say the US HE system fails to provide students with good value for money and 75% believe college is too expensive for most Americans to afford.  However, 86% of college graduates say that college has been a good investment for them personally, estimating that they earn $20,000 a year for having obtained a degree.  38% of college presidents believe that US HE is headed in the wrong direction and only 19% of them see it as the best in the world (although this rises to 40% among presidents of highly selective colleges and universities).

And finally, Georgetown University has published an extremely detailed study into the economic value of college majors.


US Post-Secondary Landscape

[University World News; Wired Campus]

The Instructional Technology Council (ITC) considers the Impact of eLearning at Community Colleges.  The preamble is lengthy and very US-centric but the survey itself (p7) presents some useful data and trends, showing a 9% growth in enrolments in online programmes, greater use of remote tutors and the beginnings of a drift away from Blackboard towards other LMS/VLEs.

A ‘first look’ report from the National Center for Education Statistics contains a mass of data on enrolments, graduations and finances from more than 6,700 different US post-secondary institutions.  Although it’s considerably more detailed than the ITC report, the absence of an executive summary or conclusions makes it quite difficult to unravel – so perhaps one for enthusiasts only.


US Self-paced eLearning Market Forecast

[Ambient Insight]

Ambient Insight has just published The US Corporate Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2010-2015 Forecast.  This shows a 2010 total market of $6.8bn in 2010, rising at just 0.9% to reach $7.1bn by 2015.  However, some sectors are more buoyant, such as healthcare which has an 18% growth rate.  Ambient believes the corporate segment currently accounts for 37.4% of the total US Self-paced eLearning market.


Digital's Next Frontier: Education

[Stephen Downes]

I wouldn’t describe this 20 min talk by Rupert Murdoch at last month’s e-G8 Forum as ‘electric’ but it certainly strikes a chord.  He describes the failings he sees in modern one-size-fits-all education (“a jobs program for teachers and administrators”) and gives examples of technology-based success stories that have broken the mould: “We must begin by exciting the imaginations of our young people.  The key is not a computer or a tablet or some other device; the key is the software that will engage students and help teach them concepts and how to think for themselves.”


Educause Top Ten IT Issues


The 2011 Current Issues Survey has just been published by Educause and ‘mobile computing’ debuts at #5 in the top-ten higher education IT issues critical for strategic success.  The top four remain the same as in last year’s survey: Funding; Administrative/Resourcing/Information Systems; Teaching and Learning with Technology; and Security.


Remote Tutoring

[TechCrunch; JE]

Motuto offers real time online tutor support for Grade 7-12 subjects via an iPad/iPhone app which gives users access to a pool of tutors.  Communication is via text, photos and a two-way whiteboard.  The app and your first 20 mins come free, after which support costs 5$ per 20 min session.

24-7 tutorials offers a similar service, but extending up into HE.  The service uses real-time text and audio technology to connect students and tutors, with one-to-one sessions priced at €15 per 20 mins.  Founder, Eileen O’Duffy has spent the past six months recruiting freelance tutors from teaching and professional backgrounds.  Her initial target is Irish and UK curricula/students, but she already has plans to expand into Australia.


Learning to Teach Online

[Stephen Downes]

UNSW’s Simon McIntyre and colleagues have assembled the Learning to Teach Online web site which hosts a series of guidance and case study episodes, each of which comprises a video and supporting PDF.

But Georgia’s Rob Jenkins asks why so many students are still failing online?  He suggests that the US sees, “success rates in online courses of only 50% - as opposed to 70-to-75% for comparable face-to-face classes” and that his own suggestion of preparing/testing new students for online readiness “was met with stony silence.”


Tablet Roundup

[Jakob Nielsen; ASTD; Wired Campus; TechCrunch]

Earlier research by Jakob Nielsen found some serious flaws in the usability of iPad applications.  One year on, there are still problems, including read–tap asymmetry (content that was large enough to read but too small to tap) and touchable areas too close together, leading to accidental activation and often no quick way to go ‘back’; there were also examples of low discoverability (active areas that didn't look touchable).  Researchers also found that users often disliked typing on the touchscreen and thus avoided registration screens.  The good news for users is that apps are generally becoming more consistent and standardized, making them easier to operate.  On the ASTD site, Connie Malamed offers 10 Tips for Designing M-Learning and Support Apps; many of these are obvious, but we occasionally need obvious things to be pointed out to us.

Barnes & Noble has launched a touch-screen Nook e-reader in the US – with a 6” monochrome e-ink screen, no page-turn latency and an estimated 2 month battery life (twice that of Kindle, and with 37 fewer buttons) – for $139.

The US Dept of Education has released a new guide to laws and rules colleges must follow to ensure e-reading devices and other emerging technologies are accessible to all students.

A Pearson survey of 1,200 US college students found that 69% think tablets will transform higher education, and 48% said tablets will replace printed textbooks within the next five years.  But how many actually owned a tablet?  Just 7%.

Similar investigations by Nielsen Research suggest that only around 5% of US consumers own a tablet.  In UK that figure falls to about 1.7% (most of whom seem to work in universities…)



[Engadget; TechCrunch; InsideHigherEd; BBC; Simon Rae; Wired Campus]

Amazon has announced that digital book sales (excluding free downloads) now exceed those of all hardcover and paperback print titles – at a rate of 105:100 in April.  The company also notes that it is selling more ad-supported Kindle readers at $114 than the normal $139 version.  The ads do not obstruct the reading experience but appear in screensaver mode or at the bottom of the reading list; the ad-supported device is not available in the UK.

Citi analyst Mark Mahaney estimates that sales of Kindle and digital books will account for 10% of Amazon’s revenues in 2012.  He believes, thanks to the Kindle, Amazon’s US book business is growing faster than at any point in the last ten years.

Despite encouraging e-book sales in the commercial and fiction sectors, the same cannot be said for education.  A survey by the Association of American University Presses suggests that e-book sales or licenses accounted for less than 3% of total revenue for most university presses at the end of last year.  However, there are signs that this has risen towards 10% in the early months of this year, but the majority of these have been ‘backlist’ titles (more than a year old) even though publishers direct their marketing effort at new ‘frontlist’ titles.

A student at California’s Foothill College has filed a grievance arguing that a $78 fee he had to pay in addition to the $85 registration fee amounted to a double charge.  The additional fee gave him access to a Pearson Web site with an e-textbook, quizzes, homework questions and other material.  However, the e-textbook expires 12 to 18 months after a student signs up, a condition that might be considered a violation of the provision, although the college argues that because students can print out that text at any time during the course, the fee at Foothill remains on the right side of US law.

The British Library is launching a new iPad app which will make more than 60,000 19th Century books available.  However, unlike e-books, the app uses scanned copies of original editions so users will have access to original illustrations.  The paid-for app will be launched in full this summer but, until then, a thousand titles can be browsed for free.

The National Academies Press publishes over 200 new books, reports and podcasts each year on scientific, social, engineering health and educational topics - and over 4,000 are offered as free PDFs, such as Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations.

Given that shamelessly ripping-off content is the sincerest form of flattery, a Chinese university press appears to be selling transcripts of free Open Yale courses, contrary to the terms of the site’s Creative Commons licence.



[George Siemens; Stephen Downes]

It had to happen.  George and Stephen’s dabbling days are over and they’re now assembling the mother of all open online courses (MOOC).  Registration is open and the draft programme runs for 36 weeks, starting on 12 Sep, presented/facilitated by an e-learning ‘A’ list which includes our own Martin Weller, Grainne Conole and Tony Hirst, plus other luminaries such as Diana Laurillard, Allison Littlejohn, Tony Bates and Terry Anderson.


Spider Scribe

[Stephen Downes]

Spider Scribe is an online mind mapping tool that can be used individually or collaboratively.  What makes it slightly different is that users can include images, maps, calendars, text notes and uploaded text files.


Augmented Reality Examples

[Stephen Downes; Mashable]

According to Stephen, Neil Lynch’s Primary School Tools site offers, “Everything you wanted to know about augmented reality, and then some.”  Then along came Gary Hayes and the Top Ten Augmented Reality & Gamified Life Talks on his personalizemedia site.  But Clark Quinn has some doubts about the purpose and value of gamification, which he outlines in a post entitled engagification.

Meanwhile, in the world of sharp suits and skinny lattes, Sam Ewen believes augmented reality, projection mapping and Kinect hacking are poised to change marketing.


NHS Mobile Apps

[Epic; BCS]

As reported last month, Epic continues to work closely with the NHS and the company has now made two mobile apps – adult drug calculations and compatibility of injectable medicines – freely available for iPhone/Pad and Android.

NHS has launched an NHS Direct app so, thanks to cutting edge technology and 3G wireless protocols, you no longer have to wait until you get home to discover that you should take two aspirins – you can now have this confirmed within seconds whilst on the move.


Looking Through the Lens

[Stephen Downes; TechCrunch]

If you’re interested in photography, you should enjoy Alan Levine’s Looking Through the Lens slidecast + MP3, in which he discusses his relationship with his camera and what he thinks photography is all about, all supported by some excellent Flickr examples.  Also on Alan’s site is a host of other useful photography links and resources.

Fotopedia has so far achieved 3.2m downloads of its first four photo apps.  It has now launched a fifth, Dreams of Burma, in partnership with National Geographic.




And Finally…

[Paul Hollins]

Layoff is a Jewel-Quest-like arcade game, based on the financial crisis.  Form groups of three workers to lay them off and save the company money but, be warned, bankers are protected and cannot be sacked.  Part-funded by the US National Science Foundation, this apparently is educational and uses, “a simple casual game paradigm to comment on the current state of the US financial crisis”.  So, all done in the best possible taste. 



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